« "Sentence Length and Recidivism: A Review of the Research" | Main | "Mass Incarceration Retards Racial Integration" »

May 13, 2021

New UCLA Law Review special issue examines "Jailhouse Lawyering"

I was pleased to see this notable new UCLA Law Review special issue devoted to "Jailhouse Lawyering."  The issue's introduction is available at this link and here is the end of its overview:

In this series, authors with experience as jailhouse lawyers and journalists behind bars write about the legal issues and systems affecting incarcerated persons today.  They share stories shaped by litigation and legal research.  They make arguments rooted in both their lived experiences and an extensive knowledge of the law.  Each of these authors — and countless others — is a testament to the power and tradition of jailhouse lawyering.  We are proud to feature their work here and look forward to the day when they are acknowledged and respected for their immeasurable contributions to the field.

Here are the articles in this great-looking special issue:

Barriers to Jailhouse Lawyering by Rahsaan "New York" Thomas 

Broken Systems: Function by Design by Phal Sok 

Applying for Compassionate Release as a Pro Se Litigant by Lynn Reece

Insurgent Knowledge: Battling CDCR From Inside the System. The Story of the Essential Collaboration Between Jailhouse Lawyers and Appointed Counsel & Lessons for Resentencing Today by Stephen Liebb & Gina Cassar

Bound by Law, Freed by Solidarity: Navigating California Prisons and Universities as a Jailhouse Lawyer by Michael Saavedra

What You Didn’t Know About Adelanto Immigration Detention Center by Anna Solodovnikova

Challenging Gladiator Fights in the CDCR by Kevin McCarthy

To Act Like a Democracy by Juan Moreno Haines

Jailhouse Lawyering From the Beginning by Kevin D. Sawyer

Making Bricks Without Straw: Legal Training for Female Jailhouse Lawyers in the Louisiana Penal System by Robin Bunley

An Old Lawyer Learns New Tricks: A Memoir by James C. Bottomley

May 13, 2021 at 07:42 PM | Permalink


This is a topic that I am definitely familiar with. I have a law degree and practiced in Atlanta for 13 years, before losing my career and my life to a client who turned out to be a Con Man. I was unaware that my client from West Virginia had twice been to Federal prison before for securities fraud. During my 8 years in Federal prison, I spent almost every day that I was not in the Hole or in Transit between prisons in the law library, working on other inmates' cases, as a "jailhouse lawyer". One advantage is that I actually had the time to real all of the new cases in each edition of the paper Advance Sheets for the F.Supp.2d and F.3rd Reporters, a luxury that no practicing lawyer "on the street" has time to do. I was able to make a meaningful difference in the lives of many inmates. I got one Hispanic inmate visitation with his 2 year old child, despite the Mother's insistence that the child would never visit her father in prison. The Court ordered the Mother to give the child to the inmate's Mother and sister every other Sunday, so that they could bring the child to see her father in prison. I found a mistake that one inmate's defense counsel had made, which resulted in him receiving a 23-year long sentence as an Armed Career Criminal, despite the fact that he didn't qualify for such treatment. His Habeas Corpus Motion brief was only 4 pages long. He was re-sentenced to 11 years. My best work, however, was getting 14 Mariel Cubans freed from FCI - Manchester, Kentucky, where they had been held as INS detainees, without any Federal criminal convictions for many years. In 2003, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rendered its En Banc decision in Rosales-Garcia vs. Holland, 322 F.3d 386 (6th Cir. 2003) (En Banc), holding that if the INS could not repatriate alien Cubans who had been released from state prisons within 6 months of their release, then they had to release them on the streets of America on "immigration parole". That decision meant that the 14 Cuban detainees being held with me were being held illegally, in violation of the U.S. Constitution. These Cubans were completely helpless, as many were even illiterate in their native Spanish and could neither speak or write English. With the help of bilingual translators, I met with each Cuban and typed a 3 page 2241 Petition for Habeas Corpus, which was copied and mailed to the U.S. District Court in London, Kentucky. The Government asked the Court to wait, while the DOJ filed a Petition for Certiorari in Rosales-Garcia v. Holland to the U.S. Supreme Court. After the DOJ Petition was denied, the Government conceded that the Petitions for Habeas Corpus should be granted and asked the Courts to close the files. But I saw the trap, and wrote letters about it to the District Judges to whom the cases had been assigned. There was a Circuit Split on this issue (holding alien INS detainees indefinitely, potentially for life, because they could not be deported back to Cuba), and the 11th Circuit was on the other side of the split. Upon release from FCI - Machester, Ky., these Cubans would be going home to Little Havana (Miami), which was located in the 11th Circuit. If thee District Judges closed the files, then the INS could re-arrest these Cubans in Miami and incarcerate them in prisons in the 11th Circuit, where the law was different. In my "back channel" communications to the Judges (thru sealed Legal Mail from prison), I urged the Judges to grant the relief but keep the case files OPEN to maintain supervision over the Petitioners, thus preventing their re-arrest in Florida. Eventually, all 14 Cubans were released and safely went home to their families and friends in Florida as a result of my legal knowledge and efforts as a jailhouse lawyer, which I found quite gratifying. I had freed the helpless from prison. I felt like I was doing God's work, using my education and gifts to help the least of HIS children.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | May 13, 2021 8:43:13 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB